Greensky Bluegrass makes a musical landing this weekend

Band plays two nights at Deer Valley

Deer Valley Music Concert Series: Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass will play two nights during the Deer Valley Concert Series, Aug. 5 and 6, at the Snow Park Amphitheater.
Courtesy of Big Hassle

Greensky Bluegrass mandolinist Paul Hoffman looks forward to the band’s two-night stand Aug. 5 and 6 at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater.

“It gives us more time to rehearse, and gives us a chance to make what we play more unique, because we’re not traveling,” he said. “We still have a sound check for the second night. And while it’s not always a guarantee that the second night will be better, the odds are that we’ll be more comfortable. Plus, playing in the mountains is the best.”

Set lists aren’t a problem, because the band — Hoffman, dobroist Anders Beck, banjoist Michael Arlen Bont, guitarist Dave Bruzza and upright bassist Mike Devol — has racked up more than 200 songs, including originals and covers, throughout the past 20 years.  

“We’ll choose a song to cover because it’s sometimes as simple as being something I want to sing,” Hoffman said laughing. “But there are other factors as well.”

One factor for Greensky to cover a song is paying tribute to a famous singer or songwriter who lives in the town it is playing in, according to Hoffman.

“Sometimes it’s that unfortunate event where someone passes away, so we’ll play their music as a tribute,” he said.

The invigorating challenge of covering some of the songs is transforming them into bluegrass compositions.

“We can do a Prince song, but we have to figure out who will play the synth part on their instrument,” he said. “And it goes as far as even effects in how I try to make my mandolin sound like something on the originals.”

Playing covers has helped the band develop musically, Hoffman said.

“We sort of are forced to find new limits for our instruments,” he said. “It’s clear to me that our influences are broad, and that has influenced our songwriting style. So, we’re just trying to break down barriers. Find one and break it down.”

Hoffman and Bruzza, for the most part, are the main songwriters for Greensky Bluegrass originals. However in the past few years, the others have contributed their lyrics and compositions as well.

“The last record [“Stress Dreams”] had some songs by our bass player, and they are phenomenal,” Hoffman said. “He’s a very talented musician, and he’s been a part of our arrangement process when we make music. But he had never contributed his own songs before then.”

Dobroist Beck also wrote a song for the last album.

“He lives in Nashville, so he co writes with a guy down there,” Hoffman said. “He just wrote another one that we’ve recorded.”

The only bandmate who didn’t write a song for the last album was Bont.

“He has written songs in the past, so everyone in the band are songwriters,” Hoffman said. “We’re technically a band of five songwriters.”

Although one songwriter comes up with the idea, the band works as a team on the arrangements, Hoffman said.

“We just did a studio project in Iceland, and we recorded a couple of tunes that we’re going to release as an EP sometime later this year or whenever we can get it done,” he said. “We workshopped 10 tunes, but only had time to record four.”

Sometimes a song will take years to complete, Hoffman said.

“I wrote a song that I took to Iceland that I really didn’t want to record,” he said. “I like it, but I don’t know why I didn’t want to record it that day.”

Hoffman originally wrote the first verse and chorus, and then the song sat for two years.

“I went back to it during a songwriting retreat I was doing for myself,” he said. “As an exercise, I called up my pal [songwriter] Lindsay Lou, and asked if she wanted to finish the song with me. So we did it over FaceTime. Maybe it will see the light of day someday.”

Hoffman enjoys writing while not on tour.

“I like sitting at home stationary, and that’s not easy, because we’re so busy touring all the time,” he said. “So, I’ll collect a lot of ideas when I’m out there. Then I’ll go home and write. But even at home it’s hard. I have a four year old, so I go off into the woods somewhere.”

Greensky Bluegrass mandolinist Paul Hoffman enjoys playing live, because he can see the impact the band’s music has on its audiences.
Courtesy of Big Hassle

Hoffman isn’t afraid to get down and personal with his lyrics while writing songs.

“If I reach that point, I’m pretty stoked,” he said. “Because if it can mean something to me and if it feels that way when I’m writing, it’s usually pretty common that I’ll feel that way when I sing it.”

Hoffman says singing live is like being a method actor.

“I’m not just singing the notes,” he said. “I’m internalizing the lyrical meaning of every one of my tunes.”

Hoffman said he and his bandmates enjoyed making “Stress Dreams” a little more than they did with their other albums, because they recorded it during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We kept going back to the studio,” he said. “We didn’t want to leave, because we enjoyed playing music together. So, we kept recording more. So there are five or six songs that we didn’t release.” 

Two of them, “Get Out” and “Congratulations and Condolences,” were released on Record Store Day Black Friday in November, Hoffman said.

“I’m not sure what happened with the others,” he said. “They may turn up sometime.”

Hoffman’s favorite aspect of being a singer and songwriter is playing live.

“Since I was a small child, I had a knack for wanting to be the center of attention, and I’ve been using that ever since,” he said. “It’s fun up there, because I can see how the music impacts people. We provide the soundtrack and events for people to have a good time, and there’s also lyrical content that can maybe help people confront some things that they are troubled by. It’s a gift that I feel like I can give to others, and I don’t take that for granted.”


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